John Harris: The Man Who Breeds Success

If we are to measure a person by their achievements, Harris Institute's founder and president, John Harris, has to be to be one of the Canadian music industry’s most underrated success stories past or present.

His namesake, Harris Institute, ranked best private school for a 6th year in Jim Lamarche’s 2018 ‘Media Arts Education Report’. The annual index that serves as the quintessential source of information on media arts education in Canada states, “Harris Institute is the best school of its kind. Highly Recommended”.

Alumni and faculty contributed to Leonard Cohen’s Memorial Concert on CBC, Neil Young's live concert from Omemee, Shania Twain's Grey Cup half-time show, Gord Downie's Juno-winning Secret Path, The Weeknd's #1 album Starboy and Oscar-nominated 'Earned It', The Tragically Hip's final concert film and Alessia Cara's Platinum album, Know It All.

The man behind it all likes to bang the drum about his graduates and their accomplishments and has forever taken the long-road in building the faculty and the curricula over personal aggrandizement.

“The school’s results are due to a remarkable 62-member faculty that includes many award-winning leaders”, Harris says in an interview. “We set out 29 years ago to strengthen the Canadian music industry, and our graduates are now helping to achieve that objective”.

And indeed, they are.

In 2017, Harris alumni won 94 awards including 10 Junos and faculty members Martin Pilchner, Doug McClement, Bill King, Yuri Gorbachow, David Quilico, Kathleen Farley, Patrick Duffy and Sam Weller won or were nominated for eight others.

Incredibly, Harris Institute is the only post-secondary school in North America to have achieved four 0% Student Loan Default Rates. Its Arts Management Program (AMP) has eight 0% Default Rates, and the Audio Production Program (APP) has six.

In 2017 international students came from nine States and 19 countries including Japan, France, England, Bermuda, Korea, Tanzania, Cuba, Scotland, Spain, Brazil, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Mexico, Iran, India, Jordan, Columbia, China, Nigeria and Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, New Jersey, Florida, Tennessee, Maryland, California and Wisconsin.

None of which tells you much about the guy who has built a formidable machine for generating tomorrow’s music industry leaders in all aspects of a business that grows ever more complex.

At his base-camp, a century old 15,000 square foot industrial building – designed by Massey Hall’s architect George M. Miller – that sits in the heart of Toronto’s downtown core, Harris is a sea of calm in his glassed-in office that allows faculty and students to see who he is with or breeze past and say ‘hello’.

The complex, wisely purchased during one of the city real-estate downturns, includes three recording studios designed by internationally acclaimed faculty member Martin Pilchner.

A kid from Etobicoke, Harris has forever been active in the arts community, volunteering his time and expertise on a large number of boards that include the Variety Club, OMDC, and Casey House.

He was an audio consultant for the Papal visit to Downsview Park in Toronto, penned various articles for music media and found the time to author or co-author a couple of books, including a Collier MacMillan textbook, “Canada: Its Music”.

For 25 years he was an artist manager (Lisa Hartt, Ishan People, Tranquility Base), a concert promoter, and co-founder of a record label (Rising Records), and his name is attached to four CLIO Awards for record and jingle production. He continues to operate a music publishing firm and has made a mark as a professional photographer.

He has also put together an all-star team at Harris Institute, taking people with hard-earned credentials in the industry and put them in front of classrooms populated by tomorrow’s go-getters.


And furthering the ambitions of the post-secondary college, Harris recently announced a partnership with the University of the West of Scotland that can now offer students the opportunity to earn a college diploma and a university degree in 20 months or two honours and a Master's Degree, in 32 months.

He’s a quiet guy with a twinkle in his eyes who is proud of what his efforts have achieved–providing knowledge to tomorrow’s industry deal-makers and leaders; and if doing this well means taking a humble, backroom approach to his vanity, well, that’s just fine by him. When he walks through the front doors to work each day, there’s his name right there in front and, inside the entranceway, a complex teeming with people who daily appreciate the opportunities he is offering them.

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